with Davin Chor and Bingjing Li. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER WP 25925) [Online Article] [PDF]
We study how adverse economic shocks influence political outcomes in authoritarian regimes in strong states, by examining the 2013-2015 export slowdown in China. We exploit detailed customs data and the variation they reveal about Chinese prefectures’ underlying exposure to the global trade slowdown, in order to implement a shift-share instrumental variables strategy. Prefectures that experienced a more severe export slowdown witnessed a significant increase in incidents of labor strikes. This was accompanied by a heightened emphasis in such prefectures on upholding domestic stability, as evidenced from: (i) textual analysis measures we constructed from official annual work reports using machine-learning algorithms; and (ii) data we gathered on local fiscal expenditures channelled towards public security uses and social spending. The central government was subsequently more likely to replace the party secretary in prefectures that saw a high level of “excess strikes”, above what could be predicted from the observed export slowdown, suggesting that local leaders were held to account on yardsticks related to political stability.
with Emilio Depetris-Chauvin and Ruben Durante. (Revise and Resubmit, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics) [Online Article] [PDF]
We study how negative emotions can affect the behavior of voters and politicians by looking at the Ebola scare that hit the U.S. right before the 2014 midterm elections. Exploiting the timing and location of the four cases diagnosed in the U.S., we show that heightened concern about Ebola led to a lower vote share for the Democrats, as well as lower turnout, despite no evidence of a general anti-incumbent effect (including for President Obama). We then show that Republican politicians exploited the Ebola scare strategically by mentioning the disease in connection with immigration, terrorism, and President Obama. Voters responded with increased concern with Ebola, and increasingly conservative attitudes on immigration but not on other ideologically-charged issues. Our findings indicate that emotional reactions can have a strong electoral impact, that politicians perceive and respond strategically, and that this is mediated by issues that can be plausibly associated with the specific triggering factor.
with Emilio Depetris-Chauvin and Ruben Durante. American Economic Review 110(5): 1572-1602, May 2020 [Online Article] [PDF]
We examine whether shared collective experiences help build a national identity, by looking at the impact of national football teams’ victories in sub-Saharan Africa. We find that individuals surveyed in the days after an important victory of their country’s national team are 37 percent less likely to identify primarily with their ethnic group, and 30 percent more likely to trust other ethnicities, than those interviewed just before. Crucially, national team achievements also reduce violence: countries that (barely) qualified to the Africa Cup of Nations experience less civil conflict (9 percent fewer episodes) in the following months than countries that (barely) did not.
- How football can help build a nation VoxDev, Aug 24, 2018
- The Perfect way to Help Heal a Divided Country Bloomberg News (Cass Sunstein's column), Jun 12, 2018
- World Cup can bring fractured nations together: study AFP, Jun 03, 2018
- Nation building through sports AEA Web, May 18, 2020
with Quoc-Anh Do and Bernardo Guimaraes. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 11(3): 298-337, July 2019 [Online Article] [PDF]
We investigate the links between capital cities, conflict, and the quality of governance, starting from the assumption that incumbent elites are constrained by the threat of insurrection, and that the latter is rendered less effective by distance from the seat of political power. We show evidence that (i) conflict is more likely to emerge (and dislodge incumbents) closer to the capital, and (ii) isolated capitals are associated with misgovernance. The results hold only for relatively nondemocratic countries and for intrastate conflicts over government (as opposed to territory)—exactly the cases where our central assumption should apply. (JEL D72, D74, O17, O18, R12)
- Capitais distantes colaboram com corrupção, aponta estudo (Distant capitals collaborate with corruption, study points out) O Globo, May 25, 2013
- Myanmar’s Phantom Capital: Why did Myanmar’s generals build a new capital in the middle of nowhere? The Globalist, Sep 28, 2012
- Rural Capitals, Big-Time Problems New York Times, Sep 09, 2014
- Violent protests and distant leaders AEA Web, Jul 29, 2019
with Edward L. Glaeser. Latin American Economic Review 27(2), December 2018 [Online Article] [PDF]
Buenos Aires and Chicago grew during the nineteenth century for remarkably similar reasons. Both cities were conduits for moving meat and grain from fertile hinterlands to eastern markets. However, despite their initial similarities, Chicago was vastly more prosperous for most of the twentieth century. Can the differences between the cities after 1930 be explained by differences in the cities before that date? We highlight four major differences between Buenos Aires and Chicago in 1914. Chicago was slightly richer, and significantly better educated. Chicago was more industrially developed, with about 2.25 times more capital per worker. Finally, Chicago’s political situation was far more stable and it was not a political capital. Human capital seems to explain the lion’s share of the divergent path of the two cities and their countries, both because of its direct effect and because of the connection between education and political instability.
with David Yanagizawa-Drott. Quarterly Journal of Economics 133(3): 1395-1458, August 2018 [Online Article] [PDF]
We study the impact of international long-distance flights on the global spatial allocation of economic activity. To identify causal effects, we exploit variation due to regulatory and technological constraints, which gives rise to a discontinuity in connectedness between cities at a distance of 6,000 miles. We show that improving an airport’s position in the network of air links has a positive effect on local economic activity, as captured by satellite-measured night lights. We find that air links increase business links, showing that the movement of people fosters the movement of capital. In particular, this is driven mostly by capital flowing from high-income to middle-income (but not low-income) countries. Taken together, the results suggest that increasing interconnectedness induces links between businesses and generates economic activity at the local level but also gives rise to increased spatial inequality locally, and potentially globally.
- How Direct Flights Shape a City’s Fortunes CityLab, Oct 31, 2017
- What Happens When the Richest U.S. Cities Turn to the World? New York Times (Upshot), Dec 22, 2017
with Ruben Durante and Francesco Sobbrio. Journal of the European Economic Association, 16(4): 1094-1136, August 2018 [Online Article] [PDF]
We study the impact of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on different forms of political participation, using municipal data from Italy from 1996 to 2013. Our empirical strategy exploits the fact that the cost of providing ADSL-based broadband services in a given municipality depends on its relative position in the pre-existing voice telecommunications infrastructure. We first show that broadband Internet had a substantial negative effect on turnout in parliamentary elections up until 2008. It was, however, positively associated with other forms of political participation, both online and offline, such as the emergence of local online grassroots protest movements. The negative effect of the Internet on turnout in parliamentary elections essentially reversed after 2008, when local grassroots movements coalesced into the Five-Star Movement electoral list. Our findings support the view that: (i) the effect of the Internet varies across different forms of political participation; (ii) it changes over time, as new political actors emerge that are able to take advantage of the new technology to attract disenchanted or demobilized voters; and (iii) these new forms of mobilization eventually feed back into the mainstream electoral process, converting “exit” back into “voice.”
with Davin Chor. Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) [PDF]
We study the interplay between cultural attitudes and the economic environment, focusing on attitudes towards obedience in the workplace. We establish two key stylized facts: First, at the country level, an upward shift in workplace obedience over time is associated with more exporting in industries that feature a high routine task content (‘Specialization Fact’). Second, at the individual level, the degree of export-routineness” in the economic environment that respondents were exposed to in their formative years -but not in their adult years -shapes the pro-obedience attitudes that they carry with them into the workforce (‘Obedience Fact’). Together, these two facts show that cultural attitudes on workplace obedience respond systematically to economic incentives, and that such a culture in turn shapes the subsequent pattern of industry specialization. We develop an overlapping generations model of human capital investment and cultural transmission, to understand how this aspect of culture and specialization patterns in the economy are jointly determined in the long run. In particular, the model demonstrates the possibility of an “obedience trap”: countries may specialize in routine sectors (e.g., basic manufacturing) that foster a culture of obedience, at the expense of the development of more nonroutine and potentially more productive activities.
with David Yanagizawa-Drott. Revise & Resubmit, Journal of the European Economic Association [Online Article] [PDF]
We study whether war service by one generation affects service by the next generation inlater wars, in the context of the major US theaters of the 20th century. To identify a causaleffect, we exploit the fact that general suitability for service implies that how close to age21 an individual’s father happened to be at a time of war is a key determinant of the father’slikelihood of participation. We find that a father’s war service experience has a positive andsignificant effect on his son’s likelihood of wartime service; however, it reduces the likelihoodof the son’s serving in peacetime. We provide evidence consistent with the idea that war serviceincreases the inclination to serve in wars via a process of cultural transmission from fathers tosons, and with the presence of substitutability between this direct transmission and obliquetransmission (from society at large). In contrast, father’s war service increases the opportunitycost of service for sons, consistent with the reduced peacetime service. Taken together, ourresults indicate that a history of wars helps countries overcome the collective action problemof getting citizens to volunteer for war service.
with David Yanagizawa-Drott. Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(2): 615-658, May 2015. [Editor's Choice] [Online Article] [PDF]
We study the economic effects of religious practices in the context of theobservance of Ramadan fasting, one of the central tenets of Islam. To establishcausality, we exploit variation in the length of daily fasting due to the interac-tion between the rotating Islamic calendar and a country’s latitude. We reporttwo key, quantitatively meaningful results: (i) longer Ramadan fasting has anegative effect on output growth in Muslim countries, and (ii) it increases sub-jective well-being among Muslims. We find evidence that these patterns areconsistent with a standard club good explanation for the emergence of costlyreligious practices: increased strictness of fasting screens out the less commit-ted members, while the more committed respond with an increase in theirrelative levels of participation. Together, our results underscore that religiouspractices can affect individual behavior and beliefs in ways that have negativeimplications for economic performance, but that nevertheless increase subjec-tive well-being among followers. JEL Codes: E20, O40, O43, Z12.
- As Millions Of People Fast For Ramadan, Does The Economy Suffer? NPR (audio segment), Jul 24, 2014
- Counting Ramadan: The Economics of Religion Foreign Affairs, Jul 14, 2015
- Does Ramadan make you happy? Harm output growth? Marginal Revolution, Dec 17, 2013
- Less work and more pray…make Muhammad poorer but happier The Economist, Jul 02, 2016
- Measuring Ramadan New York Times, Jul 11, 2014
- Pendant le ramadan, les musulmans sont plus pauvres mais plus heureux (Muslims are poorer but happier during Ramadan) Slate.fr, Dec 18, 2013
- Religion, Labor Supply, and Happiness Freakonomics, Dec 30, 2013
- The costs of Ramadan need to be counted The Guardian, Jul 03, 2015
- Trading growth for happiness Science, Feb 27, 2015
- The Slow Track to Happiness Foreign Policy, Mar 12, 2014
with Quoc-Anh Do. American Economic Review 104(8): 2456–2481, August 2014 [Online Article] [PDF]
We show that isolated capital cities are robustly associated with greater levels of corruption across US states, in line with the view that this isolation reduces accountability. We then provide direct evidence that the spatial distribution of population relative to the capital affects different accountability mechanisms: newspapers cover state politics more when readers are closer to the capital,voters who live far from the capital are less knowledgeable and interested in state politics, and they turn out less in state elections. We also find that isolated capitals are associated with more money in state-level campaigns, and worse public good provision. (JEL D72, D73, H41, H83, K42, R23)
- Are isolated capital cities worse? Marginal Revolution, Aug 28, 2012
- Are isolated capital cities worse? Marginal Revolution, Aug 28, 2012
- Congratulations, New York, You’re #1 in Corruption Politico, May 05, 2015
- Does State Capital Isolation Boost Corruption? NY Daily News, May 18, 2012
- Here’s why remote state capitals are often more corrupt Washington Post (Wonkblog), May 16, 2013
- Here’s why remote state capitals are often more corrupt Washington Post (wonkblog), May 26, 2013
- How the Location of State Capitals Influences Political Corruption CityLab, May 20, 2013
- Isolated State Capitals Are More Corrupt Monkey Cage, May 18, 2012
- Naypyidaw-on-Hudson: Isolated capitals are more corrupt Foreign Policy, May 13, 2013
- Researchers Find Link Between Isolated State Capitals, Corruption NPR, May 24, 2012
- Yes, the Economy Helped Elect Trump New York Times, May 08, 2018
- Why House of Cards Really Should’ve Been Set in Missouri GQ, May 19, 2015
- What if Springfield was the state capital? Boston Globe, Mar 27, 2015
- What A State Capital’s Location Can Say About Corruption NPR (audio segment), Jul 30, 2013
- This explains Albany Boston Globe, May 26, 2013
- Study Ties Albany’s Distance From Voters to Its Corruption New York Times, May 31, 2012
- Study shows isolation may lead to corrupt state capitals LA Times, May 23, 2012
with Davin Chor. Journal of Comparative Economics 42(3): 495-517, August 2014 [Online Article] [PDF]
We provide evidence that economic circumstances are a key intermediating variable for understanding the relationship between schooling and political protest. Using the World Values Survey, we find that individuals with higher levels of schooling, but whose income outcomes fall short of that predicted by their biographical characteristics, in turn display a greater propensity to engage in protest activities. We discuss a number of interpretations that are consistent with this finding, including the idea that economic conditions can affect how individuals trade off the use of their human capital between production and political activities. Our results could also reflect a link between education, “grievance”, and political protest, although we argue that this is unlikely to be the sole explanation. Separately, we show that the interaction between schooling and economic conditions matters too at the country level: Rising education levels coupled with macroeconomic weakness are associated with increased incumbent turnover, as well as subsequent pressures toward democratization.
with Daniel Hojman. Journal of Public Economics 100: 79-92, April 2013 [Online Article] [PDF]
This paper sheds light on the links between media and political polarization by looking at the introduction ofbroadcast TV in the US. We provide causal evidence that broadcast TV decreased the ideological extremism ofUS representatives. We then show that exposure to radio wasassociated with decreased polarization. We interpretthis result by using a simple framework that identifies two channels linking media environment to politicians’incentives to polarize. First, the ideology effect: changes in the media environment may affect the distribution ofcitizens’ ideological views, with politicians moving theirpositions accordingly. Second, the motivation effect: themedia may affect citizens’ political motivation, changing the ideological composition of the electorate and therebyimpacting elite polarization while mass polarization is unchanged. The evidence on polarization and turnout isconsistent with a prevalence of the ideology effect in the case of TV, as both of them decreased. Increased turnoutassociated with radio exposure is in turn consistent with a role for the motivation effect.
- The role of partisan media Boston Globe, Oct 06, 2013
with Davin Chor. Review of Economics and Statistics 94(4): 841-859, November 2012 [PDF]
We investigate how the link between individual schooling and political participation is affected by country characteristics. Using individual survey data, we ﬁnd that political participation is more responsive to schooling in land-abundant countries and less responsive in human capital – abundant countries, even while controlling for country political institutions and cultural attitudes. We ﬁnd related evidence that political participation is less responsive to schooling in countries with a higher skill premium, as well as within countries for individuals in skilled occupations. The evidence motivates a theoretical explanation in which patterns of political participation are inﬂuenced by the opportunity cost of engaging in political rather than production activities.
with Davin Chor. Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(2): 167-188, Spring 2012 [PDF]
What underlying long-term conditions set the stage for the Arab Spring? In recent decades, the Arab region has been characterized by an expansion in schooling coupled with weak labor market conditions. This pattern is especially pronounced in those countries that saw significant upheaval during the first year of the Arab Spring uprisings. We argue that the lack of adequate economic opportunities for an increasingly educated populace can help us understand episodes of regime instability such as the Arab Spring.
Journal of Public Economics 95(7-8): 646-656, August 2011 [Online Article] [PDF]
I propose a framework in which individual political participation can take two distinct forms, voting andcontributing resources to campaigns, in a context in which the negligible impact of any individual’s actions onaggregate outcomes is fully recognized by all agents. I then use the framework to reassess the relationshipbetween inequality and redistribution. The model shows that, even though each contribution has a negligibleimpact, the interaction between contributions and voting leads to an endogenous wealth bias in the politicalprocess, as the advantage of wealthier individuals in providing contributions encourages parties to move theirplatforms closer to those individuals’ preferred positions. This mechanism can in turn explain why thestandard median-voter-based prediction, that more inequality produces more redistribution, has receivedlittle empirical support: higher inequality endogenously shifts the political system further in favor of the rich.In equilibrium, there is a non-monotonic relationship in which redistribution is initially increasing buteventually decreasing in inequality. I present some empirical evidence supporting the framework, using dataon campaign contributions from US presidential elections. In particular, inequality increases contributions toRepublicans, but not to Democrats, as predicted by the model.
with Davin Chor and Quoc-Anh Do. Economics & Politics 21(1): 42-92, March 2009 [PDF]
We investigate the relationship between corruption and political stabil-ity, from both theoretical and empirical perspectives. We propose amodel of incumbent behavior that features the interplay of two effects: ahorizon effect, whereby greater instability leads the incumbent to em-bezzle more during his short window of opportunity, and ademandeffect, by which the private sector is more willing to bribe stable in-cumbents. The horizon effect dominates at low levels of stability, be-cause firms are unwilling to pay high bribes and unstable incumbentshave strong incentives to embezzle, whereas the demand effect gainssalience in more stable regimes. Together, these two effects generate anon-monotonic, U-shaped relationship between total corruption andstability. On the empirical side, we find a robust U-shaped pattern be-tween country indices of corruption perception and various measures ofincumbent stability, including historically observed average tenures ofchief executives and governing parties: regimes that are very stable orvery unstable display higher levels of corruption when compared withthose in an intermediate range of stability. These results suggest thatminimizing corruption may require an electoral system that featuressome re-election incentives, but with an eventual term limit.
with Alberto Alesina and Guido Tabellini. Journal of the European Economic Association, 6(5): 1006-1036, September 2008 [PDF]
Fiscal policy is procyclical in many developing countries. We explain this policy failure with a political agency problem. Procyclicality is driven by voters who seek to “starve the Leviathan” to reduce political rents. Voters observe the state of the economy but not the rents appropriated by corrupt governments. When they observe a boom, voters optimally demand more public goods or lower taxes, and this induces a procyclical bias in fiscal policy. The empirical evidence is consistent with this explanation: Procyclicality of fiscal policy is more pronounced in more corrupt democracies.
with Francisco Ferreira. Journal of Public Economics, 91(5-6): 993-1021, June 2007 [PDF]
This paper analyses the efficiency consequences of lobbying in a production economy with imperfect commitment. We first show that the Pareto efficiency result found for truthful equilibria of common agency games in static exchange economies no longer holds under these more general conditions. We construct a model of pressure groups where the set of efficient truthful common-agency equilibria has measure zero. Second, we show that under fairly general assumptions, the equilibrium will be biased against the group with the highest productivity of private capital, reflecting the fact that, on the margin, less productive groups find lobbying relatively more rewarding. Finally, as an application, if lobbies representing “the poor” and “the rich” have identical organizational capacities, we show that the equilibrium is biased towards the poor, who have a comparative advantage in politics, rather than in production. If the pressure groups differ in their organizational capacity, both pro-rich (oligarchic) and pro-poor (populist) equilibria may arise, all of which are inefficient with respect to the constrained optimum.